Eucalypt beetles test GIA

Published Forestry Bulletin 20 October 2016 - Opinion - David Rhodes, Chief Executive, FOA

It's probably best to describe the first two forest industry experiences, of operating under the Government Industry Agreement GIA) on biosecurity, as a learning curve.

GIAs are being signed across the primary industries, with the intention of sharing both decision making and costs between a primary industry group and the Ministry for Primary Industries. For both of these areas working out what sharing means is taking some time.

As MPI describes the arrangement "It gives industry bodies a formal role, alongside MPI, in making decisions about biosecurity readiness and response activities, and what can be done to help prevent biosecurity threats reaching our shores or getting past the border."

Traditionally, MPI made all the decisions and covered the cost of an incursion. If something gets through the border, the expense of control, eradication or just living with the pest or disease, can be huge.

A range of horticulture industries have signed on to a GIA. FOA entered into our GIA last November. Surprisingly, in the animal industries, only the pig and horse industries are part of a GIA. The big players of sheep and cows have yet to come on board.

The first two tests of how the GIA works for forestry have both involved an incursion by a eucalypt beetle species – the first was last summer in Hawke's Bay and then more recently another beetle, which also feeds on eucalypts, was rediscovered on the Kapiti Coast.

In the first instance the disclosure that such a beetle had arrived was made public by a former president of Federated Farmers who had found some on his property. The disclosure in this manner was not a good look to our trade partners.

In the second case, the circumstances of the find in a piece of firewood taken from Waikanae, persuaded MPI that an attempt to eradicate the beetle was not warranted. FOA and FFA found themselves disputing this conclusion due, in a large part, to not having been sufficiently involved in the decision-making process. It was something of a black box operated by MPI.

In other words, we believe that a GIA means 'a formal role alongside MPI' is indeed such a role right through the process. It is not where an industry is presented with a decision and if it doesn't like that decision only has the option of taking control measures by itself.

We have made our position clear to MPI and I am pleased that officials understand and support us having earlier and closer involvement in any readiness and response for a forest incursion. Already I have been involved with a group that is looking to learn from this and other experiences with a view to making quick improvements and is being watched by other groups who are members of the GIA "Deed Governance Group".

At the same time, forest growers are discussing operational agreements under the GIA with MPI. This issue here is demarcation between what costs are specifically industry good and which address the risk and damage to public amenities, which is what MPI ought to cover.

High Risk Site Surveillance (HRSS) for example, in other words monitoring at the ports and airports, is more of a public good activity than forest surveillance, which is what the industry conducts and pays for. HRSS was instigated to pick up pests that slip through the border, particularly around ports and at the 6000 transitional facilities that MPI has authorised over the past 15 years.

It is early days in working such issues through, and our industry was something of a pioneer well prior to GIA.

MPI is having to adopt to new ways of operating. But then so too is industry in order that we fulfill our role in the partnership. This is behind our efforts to establish a regional biosecurity network, dubbed PineNet. PineNet is the network for communication and service delivery to allow key stakeholders in the forestry sector to respond quickly to an incursion. We are also working to ensure we have the right mechanisms to fund our share of any response we agree is warranted.

We anticipated some difficulties. But we do need to make it clear that in entering into the GIA we are entitled to a position at the decision making table of government. Indeed, there is a collective view amongst those of us who sit around the GIA Deed Governance table that we are an integral component of the system described under the new Biosecurity 2025 strategy and we will be one of the voices determining change and priorities.


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